This place matters

This place matters

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So remember the post about the bathing suits? I learned the information from a neat podcast called Stuff Mom Never Told You from HowStuffWorks.com. I find the show's title silly in light of the fact that my mother taught me everything I know and love about feminism, but that's beside the point.
The podcast talked about how the bathing suit, though often seen as a symbol of the objectification of women, the skimpifying of the bathing suit actually helped women achieve equality in the water. So the Victorians. Sigh. So the Victorians, naturally, couldn't have ladies out whipping men into lustful frenzies by showing off their ankles at the beach, and so women were supposed to swim in full-length dresses that had weights in the hem to keep the skirt from floating up and inadvertently giving passing starfish a free show. As you can imagine, people died. Modesty kills.
Women who wanted the ability to go in the water without drowning, or even to swim for sport, began to wear clothing that covered less and less, allowing them to be more and more agile in the water.
The hosts of the show then go on, however, to talk about how the bathing suit has become a tool for the objectification of women, siting the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has an example of the evils of exploitation.
See, that's where you lose me. I don't understand the whole objectification concept. Objectification, as it applies to gender equality, is the act of making a women into an object, or as property, by staring at her body without sufficient regard for her as a person. 
To me, as I noted in the comments for another post, for me to accuse someone of objectification, there would have to be some element of meanness or disrespect - which is to say that I think for someone to be objectified, the object, or someone else by proxy, would need to be harmed. The thing is, well let's look at my Tyra for a moment.
Tyra, as fellow fans of Top Model know, was the first black woman to appear on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue. It could be argued that Tyra put the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue on the map. I'm not sure, however, who was harmed by Tyra's appearance.
Tyra herself is on a first name basis with much of the country. Despite the fact that she's not the brightest bulb in the box, she's created an empire for herself with her talk show and her Top Model franchise, which are primarily viewed by women. Tyra was thin when she appeared on the SI cover, but by no means emaciated - in fact, Tyra got into commercial modeling after she got too "fat" for couture modeling and refused to starve herself. By the way, did you ever notice that the female models in men's magazines are always significantly beefier than the female models in women's magazines? Tyra's Top Model franchise has always featured at least one plus-sized model per season, and Tyra had a very public battle with model Janice Dickinson about Dickinson's anti-fat comments on the show. I'm not saying Tyra is Mother Theresa or anything, but she's very open about food, weight, body image, and the like. She talks openly about how much her modeling photos are airbrushed, her weave, about the unhealthy lengths that some women go to make it in the industry.
So I wonder who, really, was harmed by the fact that teenage boys kept her photos under their mattresses? From what I know of teenage boys, they're going to ogle whoever they can ogle, whether she's on the cover of SI or in the back of the Sears Catalog.
Then again, I don't think anyone can argue that Brittany Spears wasn't harmed by the way she's been made a sex object all her life? People loved to love her when she was young and perfect. People were shamelessly cruel to and about her when she started to melt down, and everyone gasped with disgust when she got "fat," despite the fact that in the real world, she would barely have been considered plump. Now that a thin Brittany is slathered with baby oil and slithering all over our TV screens, people are lauding her big comeback. If the child hadn't been whored out to a drooling public since just after birth, she probably wouldn't have ended up shaving her head and beating down vans with umbrellas.
Also, my mom wouldn't let me play with Barbie dolls when I was a kid because of the negative body image stuff. The ten-year-old inside me is shuddering as I say this, but I'm kind of with mom on this one. Barbie's not evil or anything, but if I were ever to make a baby, I'd want her to play with toys that encouraged skills beyond the ability to pair leg-warmers with mini skirts.
Not sure, then, where I come down on this. I suppose that it boils down to this: girls have boobs. Boys (and some girls) like boobs. Boys are going to look at girls' boobs. This is only a problem when men treat women as nothing but a pair of boobs or when girls are made to believe that everything they have to offer lives inside their bras.
Maybe.

4 comments:

denny16 said...

From my point of view the models in mens magazines are less skinny because, call me crazy, but I think the average man tends to find the fact I can see a woman's ribcage unattractive. Let's face it, scantily clad women, attractive, walking skeletons... not so much.

I find it complete irony then that if there was to be a finger pointed to a set of magazines, it might need to be pointed to the women's ones. Somehow putting it into the average woman's mind that a man would only find her attractive if she's so skinny you can see way too much of her hip bones.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

I subscribe to Esquire, and it is less sexist, in my opinion, than any mainstream women's magazine.

bearkate said...

I played with (and still have shoved in the back of my closet) a fair number of Barbie dolls. I don't think I came out too warped. To me a doll is just a doll whether it's Barbie or Raggedy Ann. Unless it's a Bratz doll, those things are teeny tramps.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Yeah, I never had Barbies and I've always had a terrible body image. I'm not saying it was effective, just that I appreciate the sentiment. The same way I will defend her decision not to let me watch Full House :)

ShareThis